No surprise there, really. But the purples in the season-high crowd of 69,407 were hoping for a Hollywood climax. What they saw was a form chart of the last eight games between the Ducks and Washington Huskies. All large losses.
This time, a 34-17 defeat Saturday night felt almost normal: Huskies hang in for first half, wear down for second half, lose by oddsmakers’ forecasted margin. For the fact that it was anything but a routine evening — the celebration surrounding the final event before shutdown for a $250 million stadium makeover — the game itself was a facsimile of the same old, same old.
Except for one thing: The Huskies offensive line couldn’t block a lick. Coming into the game, it was about the last worry for coach Steve Sarkisian.
“Six sacks is a crazy number — embarrassing,” he said. “For two of the last three weeks, we haven’t played well up front. I was not anticipating our inability to block them up front.”
Protection for quarterback Keith Price was so poor that Sarkisian admitted he was reluctant to call for deep passes. Price’s longest pass play was 20 yards, and he had two interceptions. He hit on 24 of 35 passes but gained only 143 yards.
The most galling aspect of the shortcoming was that Washington’s deservedly criticized defense actually kept the game within reach by holding the Ducks to 381 yards of offense, just 134 in the first half.
“For what (the Ducks) have done to (other opponents), 381 yards is a pretty good night,” Sarkisian said. Oregon helped by committing nine penalties for 78 yards, missing two field goals and fumbling once in their backfield while quarterback Darron Thomas was having his own throwing problems.
But on an emotional evening for Husky adherents — the stadium finale, senior night, the 20th anniversary celebration of the 1991 co-national championship, Don James on hand for the coin toss — Washington couldn’t do much with the energy at their disposal.
“We made lots of mistakes, lots of mental errors,” said Price, who after his final sack was sidelined with a sore shoulder for one play. “On the interceptions, I just made the wrong reads. No excuses.”
From his fast seasonal start, Price is definitely off his game. Whether a list of injuries is nagging him, or defenses are targeting him, his throws are increasingly high or wide. But his linemates did him no favors by failing to create a consistent pocket.
Down 31-17 halfway through third quarter, UW found itself at midfield and decided to go for it on fourth-and-4. Price dropped back and was immediately pressured, while running back Chris Polk either failed to block a blitzing linebacker or didn’t make himself available for a flare pass. Either way, he was on the ground and so was Polk. The ball went over on downs to the Ducks, who took advantage for a short drive to a field goal and a 34-17 lead.
After that, nothing was sustainable on offense because the Ducks knew what was coming. For perhaps the first time in his three years at Washington, Sarkisian seemed a little bewildered at the outcome.
“We’re all disappointed,” Sarkisian said. “We wanted to close things out the way we’d hoped we could. We were 5-0 at home this year, we had a buildup of energy and a good week of preparation.”
Or, as Price summed the mood in the locker room afterward: “It’s horrible.”
The building will be back by 2013. The Huskies have to be back by Saturday in Los Angeles against USC.
Defensive coordinator Nick Holt, for one, has a preference for playing the Trojans, his old employer.
“I would rather play USC than Oregon, quite honestly,” he said. Despite the remark being fodder for USC’s Twitter accounts, the man has a point. Washington has beaten USC the last two times, but you have to be at least 12 or 13 years old before you can remember watching the Huskies beat Oregon.
There were a lot of Huskies sentimentalists counting on the end of the Ducks streak to coincide with the finale of the stadium. But sentiment isn’t even a stipend at this level.
The construction project to get the team elite will take a lot longer than getting the stadium elite.